Temple treatment for psychiatric illness
Traditional Healing May Relieve Symptoms Of Mental Illness
(British Medical Journal, July 5, 2002)
A six-week stay at a Hindu temple in Tamil Nadu can produce the same
improvement in people with severe psychiatric disorders as a month-long
course of standard drugs, say researchers in India. The study was conducted
at the temple of Muthuswamy in South India, known as a source of help
for people with serious mental disorders.
A team led by Ramanathan Raguram of the National Institute of Mental
Health and Neurosciences in Bangalore studied all 31 people who came
for help and stayed at the Muthuswamy temple in Velayuthampalayampudur
between June and August 2000. Twenty three were diagnosed with paranoid
schizophrenia, six with delusional disorders, and two with bipolar disorder.
No specific ceremonies to promote the recovery of patients are performed
at the temple. Instead the patient is encouraged to take part in the
daily maintenance routines of the temple.
"What they were given is tender loving care, in a non-threatening
environment, in tune with their own cultural beliefs, with the hope
of recovery," says Raguram. "And in the history of psychiatry,
these were the principles on which asylums were originally built."
Everyone who came for help was assessed by a trained psychiatrist
on the first day of their stay in the temple and again on the day they
left to return home, using recognised psychiatric rating scale scores.
Family caregivers were also asked to assess satisfaction with their
experience at the temple.
In India, many mentally ill people of all faiths visit religious sites
renowned for having curative powers. The Muthuswamy temple is built
over the tomb of a man who lived a century ago and who, according to
legend, could cure mental illnesses with a touch of his hand. His descendants
now run the temple and offer its services for free.
The 31 patients had been suffering for an average of 71 weeks. Only
one had received any professional care.
The researchers found a reduction of nearly 20% in psychiatric rating
scale scores, representing a level of clinical improvement that matches
that achieved by many psychotrophic drugs. Family caregivers also thought
that most of the patients had improved during their stay. In the absence
of any specific healing rituals, the observed benefits appeared to result
from a supportive, non-threatening environment, say the authors. They
suggest that these institutions may have a role in providing community
mental health care.
The dramatic improvement in test scores matches those expected within
four weeks of administering drugs such as chlorpromazine and risperidone,
says Raguram. "We were not really prepared for it," he says.
Assen Jablensky, an expert on mental disorders at the University of
Western Australia, Perth, points out that such findings are not specific
to India, or any particular faith. "For example, a 'treatment
protocol' in many ways similar to the healing temple of Muthuswamy has
been practised at the traditional therapeutic village of Aro in Nigeria,"
But he cautions that such treatments should be considered as complementary
to other approaches, and not an alternative.
Raguram admits one problem with the study - there were no controls.
"To prove the efficacy we need double-blind control
studies, which is very difficult to conduct in such settings,"